Press Club

Morning Notes

Sign Replacement Complete — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Update: Crews have now completed street sign replacement across the Arlington segments of the former (Old) Lee Highway.” [Twitter]

Crystal City Road Project Underway — “18th St S project ([protected bike lanes], realigning a bad intersection, shortening crossings) has broken ground. No eastbound bike lane during work I guess.” [Twitter]

It’s Friday — Rain and windy in the morning. High of 66 in the early morning hours and low of 33 tonight. Sunny this afternoon. Sunrise at 6:57 am and sunset at 5:51 pm. [Weather.gov]

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In Cherrydale, there’s a little stretch of road called “Old Lee Highway” where a few signs bearing the Lee name have yet to fall.

But that’s about to change.

Last week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved Arlington County’s request to change the name of “Old Lee Highway,” or State Route 309, to Cherry Hill Road. The motion put an end to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s proverbial last stand here.

In July, the Arlington County Board voted to change the name for Route 29 from Lee Highway to Langston Blvd. While all the local road signs along Route 29 have been changed, it took some extra time — and a separate, smaller community engagement process — to find a suitable name for “Old Lee Highway” and send it to the state transportation board for approval.

Old Lee Highway begins where Old Dominion Drive intersects with Langston Blvd. It ends with a fork in the road, where drivers can turn onto N. Quincy Street or continue east on Langston Blvd.

The stretch of ‘Old Lee Highway’ being renamed (via Langston Blvd Alliance)

The County Board tasked the Langston Blvd Alliance — which suggested Langston Blvd as the new monicker for Route 29 — with conducting an abbreviated process for Old Lee Highway. It came up with three suggestions: front-runner Cherry Hill Road, and two alternatives, Waverly Way and Cherry Hill Lane.

The LBA says Cherry Hill Road fits for a number of reasons.

“Cherry Hill Road is the historic name of the area just up the hill from Cherrydale,” said the LBA working group in a letter to the county. “Cherry Hill can also be seen as a blending of the Cherrydale and Waverly Hills neighborhoods. Dorsey Donaldson originally named this area Cherrydale because of the many cherry trees in the area, some of which are still here today.”

Meanwhile, “road” is a happy medium between “drive” and “lane” that “indicates a smaller, more walkable street but one that supports an important North Arlington bus route,” the group said.

All this came about because the alliance raised concerns with the County Board about staff’s initial suggestion to rename Old Lee Highway as “Old Dominion Drive.”

“LBA and those living on Old Lee Highway expressed concerns that the name ‘Old Dominion Drive’ would cause further confusion for drivers and emergency vehicles,” according to the organization’s webpage.

The Board unanimously approved Cherry Hill Road during its Oct. 19, 2021 meeting, when then-Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol said the name was “the winner by a fair mile.”

The other names in the top 10, pared down from 92 recommendations, were:

  1. Cardinal/Cardinal View
  2. Cherrydale
  3. District View
  4. Dogwood
  5. Monument View
  6. Union
  7. Waverly Heights

As of this week, the county says operational changes to Cherry Hill Road “are yet to be scheduled” and a schedule for switching the signs is pending.

Meanwhile, the county issued internal guidance to all departments to wrap up all associated renaming by March 14.

And for the curious, the county says residents can’t ask for an old sign. The county has, however, added some to the Center for Local History surplus and given several to the Arlington County Historical Society.

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Arlington Central Library (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Covid-related staffing shortages are forcing Arlington libraries to shutter some services, including shutting down two branches this week.

Cherrydale and Glencarlyn libraries will both be closed through Sunday (Jan. 23), including the book drops, according to an announcement on Monday (Jan. 17).

Holds on the shelf at these branches will be moved to Central Library on Wednesday (Jan. 19) and available until Wednesday, Jan. 26. No new holds will be fulfilled at the two branches during the closure.

The current plan is to reopen the Cherrydale and Glencarlyn branches on Monday, Jan. 24.

“Operations will continue to be assessed, as these plans are contingent on current staffing levels,” Henrik Sundqvist, spokesperson for Arlington Public Libraries, tells ARLnow. “Announcements regarding resuming in-person programming will be made when we have more information.”

Also starting Monday, all in-person programs at Arlington libraries will be paused and a number of meeting and study rooms will be unavailable in order to cut back on workload and provide more space for staff.

All of this is related to a staffing shortage, notes Sundqvist, something that’s impacting many other businesses across the region and country.

Back in November, Arlington libraries announced the system was set to finally fully reopen at the beginning of January for the first time in nearly two years. That ended up being very short-lived, with two branches again closing only several weeks later.

The reason for the lengthy reopening process was due to a “high number of vacant public service jobs.” The library system has since increased hiring, Sundqvist confirms.

Dealing with holds, in particular, can be a tedious and time consuming task for staff, Sundqvist notes. Though, it’s understandable why residents may not have been picking up held books recently.

“When people don’t pick up holds, the holds need to be pulled and re-shelved which increases staff workload,” Sundqvist says. “It’s reasonable to think recent weather and higher levels of community COVID-19 affect people’s ability and willingness to come into the library and pick up holds.”

Additionally, in recent weeks, Arlington libraries has been distributing at-home COVID tests, which has increased staff workload. All locations are currently out of stock on tests.

It’s anticipated that the Cherrydale and Glencarlyn branches will be open for good and hold service restored starting next week, but Arlington libraries can’t make any promises.

“Our intention is to do everything possible to keep library locations open,” says Sundqvist. “However, like many other services in the region, we may continue to be impacted by COVID-19 related staffing shortages.”

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Morning Notes

Lonely job (Courtesy of Jeff Vincent/Flickr)

Columbia Pike Optician Robbed — “Security camera video captured the tense moments when a group of thieves robbed an Arlington County store owned by a man known in the community for his charity work… The five suspects take hammers to the cases and fill bags with Cartier, Dior and Gucci frames, about $60,000 of merchandise.” [NBC4]

Mail Delays Frustrate Residents — “Residents across the D.C. region have become increasingly frustrated over delays in mail deliveries, with last week’s snowstorms, a spike in coronavirus cases and long-standing problems with the U.S. Postal Service contributing to a breakdown in services… Arlington resident Diana Wahl said she received no mail between Dec. 27 and Jan. 9. She finally received some mail on Monday and Tuesday, but older mail.” [Washington Post]

Fmr. Local Prosecutor Joins New AG’s Office — “From the job title, it doesn’t look as if [former Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo] Stamos’s primary role is going to be to keep an eye on those prosecutors. But multi-tasking is the way of the world these days, and by picking her, Miyares certainly poked his thumb in the eye of some of the Northern Virginia chief prosecutors.” [Sun Gazette]

Some Local Libraries Closed — “Due to Covid-19 related staffing shortages, Cherrydale and Glencarlyn Libraries will be closed Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 13 – 16. All library locations are closed Monday, Jan. 17 for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.” [Arlington Public Library]

Winter Storm PSA from ACPD — From the Arlington County Police Department: “With the risk of another winter storm on the horizon, now is a good time to register for Arlington Alert to receive information on major emergencies, weather, traffic disruptions and transit delays in Arlington County.” [Twitter]

Arlington Loses Delegate on New Maps — “He’s been redistricted out of Arlington, but Del. Rip Sullivan said he will always consider the community a second political home.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Thursday — Today will have increasing clouds, with a high near 46. Sunrise at 7:25 a.m. and sunset at 5:09 p.m. Tomorrow will be mostly sunny, with a high near 44. North wind 8 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. [Weather.gov]

Photo courtesy of Jeff Vincent/Flickr

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(Updated, 11/16) Long-time local restaurant Pines of Florence — and its owner — are each making an unlikely comeback.

The Southern Italian eatery will once again be cooking, this time in Arlington’s Cherrydale neighborhood, after stints in Virginia Square, Columbia Pike, and Old Town Alexandria, owner Jimmy Khan confirms to ARLnow. It’s coming to 2109 N. Pollard Street, the space formerly occupied by the recently-closed Portabellos restaurant, in a one-story shopping strip just off of Langston Blvd.

The plan is to have a “soft opening” this Saturday, Nov. 20, says Khan, where customers can bring their own beer and wine (there will be a service fee).  Khan expects to have their liquor license in about two weeks and will have a “grand opening” then.

The opening comes a year and a half after Khan suffered through a protracted and nearly fatal battle with COVID-19.

“I had a 6% chance of living,” he tells ARLnow. “I was on a ventilator for 40 days. The doctors say it was a miracle I lived.”

During that time and his recovery, he took a long look at his life and decided he needed to do more for his family. That’s why he decided to reopen Pines of Florence.

“God gave me another life, so I wanted to do something for my kids, the next generation,” says Khan.

Pines of Florence’s last location was on King Street in Alexandria in a building that was set for redevelopment. While that was a big reason the restaurant shuttered in June 2020, the closing was also related to Khan’s own battle with COVID and his co-owner (and uncle) retiring.

After some time away, Khan is ready for a restart.

“Being a restaurant owner is in my genes,” he said. “I quit for a while, but I’m re-energized.”

Khan says the plan is to open even more restaurants in the coming years.

The new Pines of Florence will, like the previous iterations, serve pizza, sandwiches, and homemade pasta dishes, as well as beer and wine. It will replace Portabellos: An American Cafe, which closed just this past September, after 15 years serving the Cherrydale and Maywood communities.

Khan says he stands by his June 2020 words about wanting to do more for his community, including creating jobs and helping those less fortunate, particularly after his near-death experience.

“[This restaurant] is going to be meaningful for my family and the community,” he says. “I want to help.”

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A restaurant specializing in traditional foods of a northwestern Chinese ethnic group has opened in Cherrydale.

Despite its minimal online presence, new Uyghur restaurant Bostan (3911 Langston Blvd) has already drawn customers from D.C. to the Shenandoah Valley looking to taste its regional dishes.

“If one [new] Uyghur restaurant opens… everybody knows,” said Tahir Imin, of D.C., who ate at Bostan last week with friends from New York.

Owner Abudushalamu Mirezhati was hard at work in the kitchen when ARLnow stopped by, but another kitchen worker tells us this is the first restaurant Mirezhati has opened. Bostan replaces Bistro 29, a casual Mediterranean spot that closed in January 2020.

In the dining room, Imin endorsed the lagman, a $13.95 dish featuring stir-fried meat and vegetables with “hand pulled noodles,” according to the restaurant’s menu.

Also on the menu are a range of kababs — filled with beef, lamb, chicken, salmon and grilled shrimp — as well as eggplant and Turkish shepherd salads, soups, dumplings, and a Uyghur flatbread called nan.

Like some other early patrons, Imin says he is Uyghur, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group connected to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a diverse area that grows most of China’s cotton. The U.S. government, news outlets and others have accused China of genocide and human rights abuses against Uyghurs, though a four-year crackdown against the ethnic group is waning, according to some reports.

The close-knit community of Uyghurs in the U.S. remain connected to their homeland and culture, in part, through restaurants like Bostan.

“Its culture and food… music, everything is very special,” Imin said of the region, noting that Uyghurs consider themselves to “be an independent nation occupied by China.”

Bostan is the second restaurant to refresh business to the low-slung commercial building on Langston Blvd, which includes a 7-Eleven. The former Billy’s Cheesesteaks — which also closed in January 2020 — reopened as Billy’s Deli/Cafe in June under the ownership of Bill Hamrock, who stepped away from Billy’s Cheesesteaks five years ago.

Bostan opens at 11 a.m. daily, closing at 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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A long-time neighborhood restaurant serving the Cherrydale and Maywood communities is closing.

Portabellos: An American Cafe is set to serve its last meals on Saturday, Sept. 25. The restaurant, located within a small, one-story shopping strip at 2109 N. Pollard Street, has been open under its current ownership for 15 years.

In an email to customers, a version of which was also posted on its website, the restaurant cited pandemic-related business challenges and said it was “unable to come to an agreement with the landlord on how to move forward.”

To All Our Valued Guests

it is with great sadness that we announce the closing of Portabello’s an American Cafe. Our lease expired last year in June 2020 and this year we were unable to come to an agreement with the landlord on how to move forward both during and after the pandemic. We want to thank all of our wonderful guests and employees for supporting us over the last 15 years. What began as a little 54 seat restaurant on the corner of North Pollard street, tucked away grew into a place that had welcomed many guests that became like family to us . We are extremely humbled that so many embraced our restaurant and that we were able to succeed as long as we had. For a restaurant to survive and thrive right outside Washington, Dc for 15 years is an accomplishment of which we can be proud. We could not have done it without all of you! THANK you all for your love and support! We will be Officially close on Sept 25th, so please come through!

Nothing but LOVE for Arlington and the surrounding area!

Sincerely,
MJ, William, Jackie, Belldo, Mariono

A GoFundMe page, meanwhile, has been established by a local community member to help out the restaurant owner.

The pandemic “wiped out all of his savings,” says the fundraising page, which so far has raised more than $5,000 from 50 donors.

The extra cash could “lift spirits there a bit and help out,” notes a post promoting it on a local Facebook group.

More from the GoFundMe campaign:

Portabello’s has been around for 20 years and MJ has owned it for about 15 years. The Covid 19 pandemic, however, has taken it’s toll and the restaurant can no longer keep going. MJ Hussein says it has been very challenging during the Covid 19 pandemic and it wiped out all of his savings. He has not been able to pay his lease. The lease ran out last July and he and the landlord decided it’s best for them to part ways.

When MJ took over Portabello’s his youngest daughter was 6 month old and now she’s in 10th grade. He wants to spend time with his daughters and work on his mental health after a very trying 17 months. He is so thankful for Arlington and especially Cherrydale and Maywood, who have been like a family to MJ and his staff.

He mentioned he was going to try to sell the restaurant and would share the proceeds with his loyal staff who have been with him for many years.

I am skeptical he would find a buyer in the current climate of Covid. This GoFundMe is a gesture of good will to a restauranteer many of us have appreciated and enjoyed. MJ always made an effort to get to know his customers. He knew what people generally ordered and would stop by the tables to chat.

This GoFundMe page will be available until September 25, 2021.

Hat tip to Smiley456. Photo (2) via Google Maps.

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A boy was walking his dog in Cherrydale when a stranger tried to engage him in conversation and then started following him around.

That’s according to Arlington County police, who describe the Saturday afternoon incident near the intersection of N. Monroe Street and 18th Street N. as an attempted abduction.

The suspect fled the scene in a black SUV and remains at large. Police say they are still investigating.

More from an ACPD crime report:

ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION, 2021-08070159, N. Monroe Street at 18th Street N. At approximately 3:47 p.m. on August 7, police were dispatched to the report of a suspicious person. Upon arrival, it was determined that the juvenile male victim was walking his dog in the area when the unknown male suspect attempted to engage him in conversation. The victim ran from the scene and observed the suspect following after him. As the victim returned to his residence, he observed the suspect turn and run back towards his vehicle. The suspect is described as an unknown race male, approximately 5’9″ to 5’10” tall, 170 – 180 lbs with long black hair. He was wearing a black long sleeve shirt, black ski hat, black pants with a tear on the right leg above the knee, a black mask and gray shoes. The suspect vehicle is described as a black SUV. A canvass of the area by responding officers concluded with negative results. The investigation is ongoing.

Billy’s Deli/Cafe is now open in Cherrydale (courtesy of Bill Hamrock)

Those who missed Billy’s Cheesesteaks in Cherrydale for the last year and a half can now get a taste of those sandwiches again.

Two weeks ago, Bill Hamrock — the old sandwich stop’s namesake and former co-owner — opened Billy’s Deli/Cafe at 3907 Lee Highway, the same spot where he opened Billy’s Cheesesteaks in 2011.

And Hamrock, who stepped away from Billy’s Cheesesteaks about five years ago, is back at the helm. While the name and menu may be familiar, he tells ARLnow that Billy’s Deli/Cafe is an entirely new business.

“Everything about it is better: new floors, new walls, new roof, new air conditioning. I think the food is better,” he said.

The new cafe is serving Billy’s famous cheesesteaks as well as other trusty dishes Hamrock says he has perfected, such as hot pita sandwiches, during his more than two decades in the food service industry. Hamrock also owns an eatery named for him in Fairfax City, Hamrock’s Restaurant.

In addition to chicken souvlaki, gyros, mozzarella chicken hot pita sandwiches and other fare, the deli and cafe will serve homemade ice cream and fresh-baked cookies, he said.

Back in January 2020 — just before the pandemic — ARLnow reported that Billy’s Cheesesteaks was closing temporarily along with the restaurant next door, Bistro 29. The then-owner, Kostas Kapasouris, told ARLnow the decision was so that he could “make the restaurants better.”

Eventually, both restaurants permanently closed. According to some new signage, a Uighur restaurant called Bostan is set to replace Bistro 29.

“Hopefully, they will be open in the next one, two, three months,” Hamrock said.

Next door, the new Billy’s space is 800 square feet and will cater to carryout, operating on several apps, including ChowNow, Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash.

“We’ll probably add to that as we go,” said Hamrock.

Those who do wish to sit at one of the eight seats inside the Lee Highway location will be greeted by a montage of historical photos of Arlington. Billy’s owner is a self-described history buff, who has written a book on Arlington history, called “We are Arlington.”

“I’m just excited about being back in Cherrydale and back in Arlington,” Hamrock said. “It’s a great neighborhood, great location. I like the neighbors and the community.”

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Morning Notes

Motorcycle police officers lined up in Courthouse to escort a deceased member of the military to Arlington National Cemetery (photo courtesy Beth Ferrill)

Development Proposal for Ballston Macy’s — “The Ballston development pipeline continues to grow as plans come into focus for the Macy’s department store in northern Virginia.  Insight Property Group is seeking Arlington County’s approval to raze and replace the Macy’s/office building at 685 N. Glebe Road with a 16-story development, delivering 555 apartments above a grocery store. The project would transfer development rights and density from the affordable Tyrol Hill/Haven Apartments off Columbia Pike.” [UrbanTurf]

‘Arlington Superwoman’ Invited to White House — “Mariflor Ventura, also known as ‘Arlington Superwoman,’ tells 7News she has been personally invited to the White House for July 4th celebrations. The Bidens have said they plan to host first responders, essential workers, and military service members and their families on the South Lawn for a cookout and to watch the fireworks over the National Mall… Ventura was first featured by 7News in April for her tireless dedication to feed, clothe and provide for hundreds of immigrant families.” [ABC 7, ABC 7]

Why There’s a Bit of a Haze in the Sky — From the National Weather Service: “If the sky seems milky to you, it’s probably because of the high altitude smoke which has moved into the area from wildfires in the western US and Canada. This smoke will likely hang around at least through tomorrow.” [Twitter]

Record Year for Local Pet Adoptions — “The Animal Welfare League of Arlington found homes for a record-breaking number of dogs, cats and small animals during the fiscal year ending June 30, the organization announced on July 1. A total of 2,587 animals ‘were adopted into loving families and brought much-needed laughs, love and comfort’ during a tumultuous time, said Animal Welfare League CEO Sam Wolbert.” [Sun Gazette]

New Farmers Market Finds Success — “Vendors from Pennsylvania to the Northern Neck of Virginia traveled to Arlington Saturday morning to sell their vegetables and other goods at the inaugural Cherrydale Farmers Market in Arlington. The customer count was larger than organizers expected, especially from the time the market opened at 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. Some vendors sold out of their goods long before the market wrapped up at noon.” [Patch]

More Libraries Open Today — “Starting July 6, Arlington residents and Library patrons will have access to five open library locations — Aurora Hills, Central, Columbia Pike, Shirlington and Westover libraries. Arlington Public Library will prioritize access to library collections, reintroduce core library services and feature new operating hours across the system.” [Arlington Public Library]

Nats Offer Prize for Summer Readers — “This year, the Washington Nationals are offering each reader who finishes Summer Reading one voucher for an upcoming baseball game. Each voucher is good for two free Nats tickets, while supplies last.” [Arlington Public Library]

Photo courtesy Beth Ferrill

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(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) The National Weather Service has confirmed that a tornado caused the widespread damage seen in several North Arlington neighborhoods today.

The tornado struck around 9 p.m. Thursday night, touching down near the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Glebe Road. It was rated as an EF1 — the second-lowest on the Enhanced Fujita scale — and cut a 125 yard-wide path of damage as it made its way east through several neighborhoods, before moving into D.C. Maximum winds were estimated at 90 mph.

The twister’s 4.4 mile path ended on the National Mall, between the Washington Monument and the White House. A second tornado, rated EF0, struck near H Street NE in the District, according to forecasters.

Tornado path (via National Weather Service)

In Arlington last night, the tornado uprooted trees, tore siding and shingles off houses, and turned trampolines and branches into projectiles.

Residents tell ARLnow they had just seconds from when their phones started blaring the Tornado Warning, shortly before 9 p.m., and when the rotating storm struck and caused havoc.

Much of the reported damage happened along the well-defined, roughly west-to-east line from the City of Falls Church and through Tara-Leeway Heights, Waverly Hills, Cherrydale and Lyon Village, before crossing the Potomac into D.C. along the National Mall.

Waverly Hills and Cherrydale suffered the worst of the storm’s fury, starting around Woodstock Park and moving along an easterly route just south of Lee Highway. The extent of the damage was evident this morning after the sun came up and chainsaws started buzzing over a large stretch of the neighborhoods.

At Woodstock Park this morning, children were playing despite the tree carnage that littered the park with fallen trees, branches and leaves. Jill Rabach was out surveying the damage to her house, just south of the park. An oak tree was leaning on her home’s roof and her next door neighbor’s fence was crushed by multiple falling trees.

“We heard the Tornado Warning and went to the basement,” Rabach recounted. “About 15 minutes later when all the noise died down we came upstairs and saw a little bit of damage not much. Power was out. By morning it was clear there was much more damage. All the houses on the street lost significant trees.”

“We’ve lived here for 15 years and there haven’t been many storms that blow that hard, that fast,” she added.

The damage continued along 20th Road N., east of the park, with tree crews hard at work clearing branches. Turning right onto N. Utah Street, the road was still blocked by a large fallen tree at 19th Road N.

Heading back up the street, more signs of a violent storm: Multiple downed trees damaged roofs, broke windows and crushed fences; siding from an unknown house lay next to a sidewalk; trash cans were lifted up and blown into neighboring yards. And stuck in a tree near the road was an unusual sight — a large trampoline.

A family in the area said their storm door swung upon so violently it became lodged into and damaged a railing.

“We got the Tornado Warning and within 30 seconds, our front door burst open. And the whole house shook and rattled,” said René Madigan. “Like it all had to have all happened at once. It pulled down all of our power lines… the house next door, it blew their door wide open, too. They have a lot more damage to their home than we have. We were blessed.”

Madigan recounted the sound of the storm as it struck the normally quiet residential neighborhood.

“I heard a horrible sound. Like it was a really horrible sound. And then the whole house just was doing this,” she said, shaking her arms. “And it just happened so fast.”

“Tornado! Get in!” Madigan recalled shouting as the family took cover.

“I heard it and I was in the basement,” Madigan’s husband said of the noise. “First I thought like a big china cabinet fell down. It sounded like… a really loud explosion.”

One street over, and also to the east, residents were out cleaning up. One house had a blue tarp on the roof, but a neighbor said nothing fell on it — shingles were ripped off at the height of the storm.

Over on N. Stafford Street, Jeff Jackson was picking up tree branches across the street from St. Agnes Catholic School in Cherrydale. The Arlington native now lives in Portland, Oregon, but is home taking care of his mother. He was at a friend’s house nearby as the storm approached.

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